The clavicle (collarbone) is a long, slender bone that runs from the breastbone to each shoulder. You can feel it at the top of your chest, just below your neck. Tough bands of tissue (ligaments) connect the clavicle to the breastbone and shoulder blades. Breaks to these bones are fairly common in cycling, usually as the result of a heavy fall, collision or blow to the shoulder. In adults, a broken clavicle takes between 6-8 weeks to heal, sometimes longer, and 3-6 weeks in children.
If you have an accident and think that you may have broken your clavicle, you should Consult your GP or go to your nearest A&E department straight away. In addition, you should stabilise your arm and try to move it as little as possible. You may experience a lot of pain from the outset. Therefore, if possible, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to alleviate the discomfort. Additionally, holding an ice pack to the injured area can help reduce pain and swelling. However, remember not to place the ice pack directly on your skin so as to avoid burning.
SYMPTOMS OF A BROKEN CLAVICLE
A fractured or broken collarbone will be very painful. Common symptoms are:
- Swelling or tenderness
- Bruising to the skin
- Numbness or pins and needles (nerves in the arm may be injured)
- Slumping downwards and forwards of the shoulder
- A snapping or grinding noise when your collarbone broke.
- In severe cases, the bone may poke through the skin
TREATING A BROKEN CLAVICLE
Most broken collarbones are left to heal naturally. A sling is provided to support the arm and hold the bones together in their normal position. You will also be given painkillers to relieve the pain.
Surgery is only needed if the injury is severe. For example, where the bone has broken through the skin or if the bones have failed to line up and are overlapping significantly. Several surgical techniques can be used to repair a broken collarbone. Fitting a metal plate with screws is the most common method.
The physiotherapist will show you some gentle arm and shoulder exercises to do at home with your arm out of the sling. The aim of these exercise is to help reduce stiffness, relieve some of the pain, and strengthen your shoulder muscles.
A week or two after sustaining the injury, you will have a follow-up appointment at your hospital’s outpatient department. This is to ensure that your collarbone is healing properly. If the pain worsens during this time, or you notice any weakness in your arm or hand, you should go back to your hospital’s A&E department.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE A BROKEN CLAVICLE TO HEAL?
Generally speaking, in adults it usually takes between 6 to 8 weeks for a broken collarbone to heal. However, it may often take longer. That said, rehabilitation will take at least the same amount of time so that your shoulder can return to full strength. Occasionally, fractures do not heal and surgery may be required. In certain cases, a distal clavicle excision may be performed. This involves the removal of a section of the collarbone and allows the shoulder joint to move more freely.
TIPS FOR RECOVERING FROM A BROKEN CLAVICLE
Here are some tips which may be helpful when recovering from a broken clavicle:
- If your sleeping is affected, use extra pillows at night to keep yourself more upright
- Use ice packs and painkillers if pain and swelling continues while your arm is in a sling
- Start to move your elbow, hand and fingers regularly as soon as it’s comfortable to do so
- When the fracture has started to heal, remove the sling for short periods of time (provided it is not too painful).
- When out and about, you may want to continue wearing the sling for comfort and also as a warning to fellow pedestrians.
- Avoid contact sports for at least 10-12 weeks after the injury
- Ask your GP for advice about returning to work and resuming normal activities
You can read more about a patient’s experience of recovering from a broken clavicle here.
If you are suffering from a shoulder injury, why not make an appointment to see one of our team of Chartered Physiotherapists , who specialise in shoulder injuries. To make an appointment, book online or call us on 020 8789 3881.